Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and one of its more successful spawn, director Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987), washed big screens with their thriller fables of illicit sex, obsession and death well before the target audience for Swimfan outgrew the kiddie pond. This tepid thriller needs the age handicap: Anyone much over 30 could spot it as inbred fifth-generation Hitchcock bobbing around the shallow end of the cinematic gene pool.
Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) wears his college letter in swim. He has well-founded Olympic hopes. And, as required for the melodramatic portion of the program, he has a “past.”
While we’re on the subject of melodrama, there’s Ben’s girlfriend, Amy Miller (Shiri Appleby). She could be the poster girl for both sweetness and nice. Swimfan presents her as an ideally accommodating waitress. The suggestion is that her doting service is more than her job, it’s her way of life. She’s perfectly set up as our soon-to-be-imperiled ingénue, like countless other doe-eyed innocents on that overtrod path back to those weeping girls of the silent screen who found themselves lashed to train tracks by moustache-twirling villains.
Enter the new girl, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen), the titular swimfan, both villain and train. But Madison, true to her last name, arrives in the guise of a Southern belle. She plays the role of a budding and dewy Blanche DuBois depending on the kindness of strangers.
But Ben isn’t a stranger for long. Soon the strokes of a swim lesson become something more intimate. Then Swimfan floats into something that could be called Fatal Attraction: The Next Generation before sinking into a fairly ridiculous she-Psycho-lite.
Director John Polson subtly tints this picture with Lyne’s cobalt neo-noir and drops of Hitchcock, and the acting is more (Christensen) or less (Bradford) effective. But Charles F. Bohl and Phillip Schneider’s script is hollow. It lacks the mythic buoyancy and tragic resonance of the films it Frankensteins together and facelifts. Swimfan just doesn’t float.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].